FA Cup run to cost Wigan Athletic their Premier League status?
Wigan Athletic's fight for Premier League survival could be hindered by FA Cup progress
Wigan Athletic’s 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Everton propelled the Lancashire team into a Wembley showdown with Championship opposition, either Millwall or Blackburn.
A trip to London will be a fantastic occasion for the Wigan supporters, players, owner Dave Whelan, and the manager, Roberto Martinez. But it is clear where the Spaniard’s priorities lie.
"We have been incredible as a football club in the way we face adversity and defy the odds, and I think for one day they have something to win and nothing to lose, so I think they can enjoy that," Martinez said in an interview with The Mirror.
"But as an individual I don’t see it as my moment. I’ll never put the future of the club - or the league - in question just to get to Wembley to try to win a cup.
"With the financial changes that happen next season, the difference between clubs in the Premier League and the Championship are huge. Staying in the Premier League this year could make an impact for 25 years for this football club. That’s how important it is."
It is a sign of the times that staying in the Premier League – never mind finishing in the top four – is seen as more important than winning a cup, in Wigan’s case a first leading cup competition.
Their run to the semi finals is Wigan’s best in the oldest competition in football, and the style in which they beat a much fancied Everton side was impressive indeed. Although the goals came in a four minute blast, Wigan were well worth the win, and they will hope to go all the way to the final. However, that could come at a cost, that being Premier League survival.
Wigan currently sit 18th, three points of fourth form bottom Aston Villa, but with a game in hand. Wigan have form of coming good at the sharp end of the season but never before have they had a Wembley date (or two) to worry about. Their run-in includes six-pointers against Newcastle, Norwich, QPR and Villa, but also ties against three of the top five (the game in hand is away at Manchester City).
A club of Wigan’s stature and resources will never have the biggest squad and, like their relegation rivals, they will need their fair share of luck when it comes to injuries and suspensions, let alone refereeing decisions. The problem Wigan will experience is not restricted to having another game or two to play, but a cup semi-final will also take an emotional strain on the players.
The players will also, consciously and subconsciously, have their minds focused on the big Wembley game. While it would be wrong to call their professionalism into question, it would be no surprise if players like Emmerson Boyce, James McCarthy and Arouna Kone started to think about the possibility of picking up a winner’s medal, rather than three valuable points against Swansea.
Martinez’s squad contains unearthed gems, a few youngsters, players that have found redemption at the DW stadium, and one or two journeymen. Under the ex-Swansea boss’ leadership they have collected exceeded expectations time and time again, and while they should be proud of their Premiership record the chance of real glory may be too distracting.
An FA Cup final appearance, or better yet a final victory would prove that Martinez deserves a crack at a much bigger team. He has been linked to various jobs in the past but there has always been a nagging doubt that he is not quite up to a top job.
Getting his hands on the FA Cup would go a long to proving the doubts wrong, but not if comes at the expense of Premier League survival. Birmingham won the League Cup in 2011 but were relegated that season. Their woes since then paint a very bleak picture, and Wigan will not want to follow their example.
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